New App Lets You 'Sue Anyone By Pressing a Button'

DoNotPay is a free app that is designed to help normal people fight big corporations in small claims court.

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Oct 10 2018, 12:59pm

Some of the biggest barriers preventing people from filing lawsuits in small claims court are the time and money that it takes to fight what could be a trivial case, such as winning a parking ticket dispute, getting a rideshare refund, or a refund for late package delivery. But a new, free app promises to let you “sue anyone by pressing a button” and have an AI-powered lawyer fight your case.

Do Not Pay, a free service that launched in the iOS App store today, uses IBM Watson-powered artificial intelligence to help people win up to $25,000 in small claims court. It’s the latest project from 21-year-old Stanford senior Joshua Browder, whose service previously allowed people to fight parking tickets or sue Equifax; now, the app has streamlined the process. It’s the “first ever service to sue anyone (in all 3,000 counties in 50 states) by pressing a button.”

The crazy part: the robot lawyer actually wins in court. In its beta testing phase, which included releases in the UK and in select numbers across all 50 US states, Do Not Pay has helped its users get back $16 million in disputed parking tickets. In a phone call with Motherboard, Browder said that the success rate of Do Not Pay is about 50 percent, with average winnings of about $7,000.

“I was a terrible driver when I turned 18 I got about 30 parking tickets, [so] I created the first version of Do Not Pay to help people get out of their parking tickets,” Browder said. “This made me realize i should probably expand this into other areas of the law. If people are being conned with parking tickets, they’re probably being conned elsewhere.”

The app works by having a bot ask the user a few basic questions about their legal issue. The bot then uses the answers to classify the case into one of 15 different legal areas, such as breach of contract or negligence. After that, Do Not Pay draws up documents specific to that legal area, and fills in the specific details. Just print it out, mail it to the courthouse, and violá—you’re a plaintiff. And if you have to show up to court in person, Do Not Pay even creates a script for the plaintiff to read out loud in court.

Last year, a beta version of Do Not Pay was used to help people fight back against Equifax after the company experienced a data breach that compromised the personal data of over 145 million people. Although a handful of people had the time and money to take Equifax to federal court, Browder decided to help people sue Equifax using Do Not Pay for free.

“At the time, lawyers said it was crazy, they said how can people represent themselves in small claims court before a big corporation,” Browder said. “I was shocked, actually, when people started winning these cases for like $9,000 without the help of a lawyer. So that helped me realized if I can do it with Equifax, I can do it with everyone.”

Browder told Motherboard that data protection is a central part of his service, which is free (users keep 100 percent of what they win in court, Browder says.) Per Do Not Pay’s privacy policy, all user data is protected with 256-bit encryption, and no third parties get access to personal user information such as home address, email address, or information pertaining to a particular case.

“Of course, I do think that there are some cases that lawyers will have to do in the short term—I’m not saying bots will be arguing in the Supreme Court,” Browder said. “But for things like landlord tenant disputes, or if you buy something and it doesn’t work, or if you’ve been a victim of a data breach—there’s no reason why that’s not a clear cut case and you will win, as long as you have the evidence and the damages.”

Being able to sue anyone with a few clicks on an app may sound dystopian, and people may understandably be concerned that a service like this will make an litigious society even worse. But the truth is that, at the moment, the legal system helps entrench already existing power structures, and that low-income people are vastly underserved by the legal system, and have little access to it.

The service may help close the huge gap between people who can afford legal services and those who can’t; in 2017, nearly three-in-four low-income households had a civil legal dispute, and the overwhelming majority of them—86 percent—had no lawyer or legal help to help them through the process, according to the Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit that studies access to legal services in the US. Meanwhile, the just 37 percent of immigrants facing deportation must fight their cases with a lawyer, according to the American Immigration Council. Those who do have legal representation “fare better at every stage of the court process,” the council says.

Terry Park, a college student from California who used Do Not Pay during the beta, told Motherboard in a phone call that he used Do Not Pay to appeal about $135 in overdraft and wire transfer fees from his bank—these were not all of his bank fees, but they were a decent chunk of them.

“As a consumer, just a regular college student that uses bank accounts [with] the major banks, I thought the banks had the upper hand, and they could just charge whatever they want,” he told me. “I didn’t know these fees could reverse, and I think this app really helped to open my eyes in terms of what could be done and what I could get out of it.”

For now, the app is running on a combination of $1.1 million in seed funding and small donations from customers. Browder said that he plans for the basic legal services on Do Not pay to remain free, but some time in the future, the app might charge money for further case-specific legal assistance.

In addition to disputing parking tickets and suing Equifax, the app can also hook you up with free fast food by filling out customer surveys, get refunds for flight and hotel prices that are hiked up on you at the last minute, and dispute prescription drug prices at pharmacies.

Of all of Do Not Pay’s legal disputes, Browder told Motherboard that he’s most proud of an instance where a woman took Equifax to court and won, twice. After her data was compromised by Equifax last year, she took the $3 billion company to small claims court and won. When Equifax appealed the verdict and sent a company lawyer to fight for an appeal, the woman won again.

“I think that just shows that no matter how much money big corporations throw at fighting people,” Browder said, “justice will prevail as long as people have the right tools.”